5 of the Best Lessons I Learned from My Worst Race

As many of you know I set a goal of running a half marathon every month leading up to my 40th birthday.

Going into the process I said all that mattered was that I finished every race. I wasn’t going to be concerned with finish times, but rather enjoy the experience. But along the way I have battled my own competitiveness.

Last Sunday I ran #8 in Sandusky, OH. It turned out to be my worst race of the series. There are a number of factors that lead to my finish time, and in looking back this race taught me more than any of the others I have ran. So while it maybe was my worst finish time, it was my greatest victory so far.

Only 13.1 to go!

Only 13.1 to go!

I’d like to share with you some of my lessons learned from this race…some of them may seem like ‘no brainers’ but even as someone who lives and breathes fitness and healthy living, they are a good reminder.

Nutrition

In general, my family eats a healthy diet. Of course we enjoy pizza or a restaurant burger and fries from time to time, but our diet consists of lean proteins and veggies. After 10 days of travel and numerous meals out, my body was pleading for it’s normal food intake.

Surely I did my best to make the healthy choices when available, but between the numerous hours in the ‘Mothership’ (our family suburban), multiple meals out and a visit to an amusement park there’s only so much control one has on their food choices.

My eyes were opened to how lethargic the body becomes when fueled with ‘junk.’ Sure I ate salads, grilled fish and found a stand at Cedar Point that sold fruit cups, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the other meals. I lacked the energy I needed to sustain the 13.1 miles.

We have been home less than a week and now that I am back to my regular food intake I have more energy and feel stronger.

Lesson learned: a consistent healthy eating lifestyle is necessary to achieve physical gains. I don’t believe this is a change that can happen overnight, but with gradual changes and true commitment to it being a lifestyle and not a diet anyone can adopt healthier eating habits.

Training

Because I teach numerous classes throughout the week (and do them with my classes) I don’t often have time to get in the long runs necessary to train for these races. I am fortunate enough that my cardio and interval classes give me the endurance to run for 2 hours at a time.

Over our 10 days of travel, 5 of those were spent in the Mothership. Each of those legs of travel (but one) was close to 500 miles. So as you can imagine, the 5 days spent ‘vacationing’ were focused on having the most fun as we could as a family. I didn’t want to take time away for myself.

We spent time in the ocean boogie boarding and swimming, we walked an entire day through downtown Nashville, we spent an entire day walking an amusement park – but none of this could replicate a true workout.

I do believe at times that my body needs rest. But as someone who doesn’t sit much throughout the day, 8+ hour car rides not only made me stir crazy but dramatically affected my strength and endurance.

Lesson learned: exercise has to be consistent and intentional. Even if you can just fit in 20 minutes – it’s worth it! You have to make it a priority and in retrospect, my family wouldn’t have ‘missed’ me for 20 minutes or a half hour. I could have taken advantage of the time they were showering or I could have let them know how important it was for me to take a break – they would have understood. Don’t cheat yourself out of a workout – ever.

Rest

I’m certainly not the best at a consistent bedtime. I preach about it often but my bedtime often varies which sometimes makes early mornings that much more difficult.

On vacation bedtime and waking times become unpredictable for our family. We stay up late enjoying activities and time with each other. We sleep in and enjoy not having the pressure of daily responsibilities. On the other hand, there are nights we crash early from exhaustion and get up at dawn to head out on our next adventure.

Between inconsistent sleeping patterns and rotating beds and pillows, it goes without saying our bodies were exhausted.

Between poor nutrition, lack of intentional exercise and inadequate rest – I had created a trifecta for reduced performance.

Lesson learned: our bodies need rest. Whether it’s a rest day from exercise to heal muscles, or mental downtime from the responsibilities of life, or actual sleep, we need to recognize the impact fatigue can have on our abilities. Improper rest from working out can lead to injury, improper rest from ‘life’ can lead to mental and emotional fatigue, and lack of sleep can lead to all of these things.

Reality Check

I started out the race really strong – too fast, in fact. But I felt good. I went into the race with little expectations because of all the things I mentioned above, but began to think, ‘What were you so worried about? You got this!’

Then the wind hit, followed by hip and knee pain, then bring on the shin splints. Before long I was physically beat. I am used to ‘hitting the wall’ halfway through the race. It happens every time. But this was different. I wanted to quit.

I was disappointed in myself and my performance. But I’m not a quitter.

So I walked. Ugh, I was w.a.l.k.i.n.g. But as I looked around I saw other people walking too. Maybe they were feeling as broken as I was, or maybe they were feeling strong. Either way each of us was doing the very best we could. And one way or another the finish line was going to be in the same place whether I was running or walking.

I decided this would be the perfect time to do some interval work. If I can’t continue to run into the wind with the physical pain, it was time to set some goals. Push through a song with a steady pace. Then slow it down, catch my breath and regroup for another push. That lasted for a while until about mile 10 or so.

I knew I had a day ahead with my family at the amusement park. Was I going to risk ruining my day of fun with them just to run more of the race? I knew if I walked more than ran at this point I would be able to keep up and enjoy the day. So I walked.

Lesson learned: Don’t quit. A setback is just that. It’s not the end. Find a way to push yourself, and do the best you can. Don’t ruin an experience just because you are meeting the expectations you had set. Evaluate those expectations and adjust them if necessary. Keep moving towards the finish and know that this experience is going to make you stronger for the next time.

Family

I continued to walk. Pushing myself into the wind, knowing every step was closer to the finish, closer to my family fun day at the amusement park.

My family has played such a major role in my races. They get up early to watch me start, then they bounce around the course to meet me and cheer me on at various checkpoints, always making it back to the finish to congratulate me.

This course was different. I saw them at the start, I saw them about mile 4 and I wasn’t supposed to see them until the end.

About mile 7 or so I called Don. I told him I was struggling. We talked he encouraged me, then put me on speakerphone and the Schindlings cheered me on. That’s about the time I put on my ‘girls’ playlist and started running intervals.

Just after mile 10 I stopped running. My head was hanging. I knew I was doing my best but I was still disappointed. Just after mile 11 I looked up and saw Don and Ella just ahead of me.

They carried me to the end.

They carried me to the end.

Maybe I’m getting sappy as I age, because again I cried. They knew I was having a tough day and even though they weren’t dressed to run, they were going to get me through my last mile and half to the finish. We ran some, we walked some, we did it together.

At the finish line we met up with the other two Schindlings – in a big group hug they all told me how proud they were of me and what a great job I did.

Lesson learned: even though this is a personal goal, I need the support of others. Achieving a goal means absolutely nothing if you don’t have people to share it with. Never underestimate the strength that comes from loving and being loved.

So while you may not be a runner, I hope the lessons I learned while running will help enrich your life.

I know that going into race #9 I will have a much better perspective on what it means to successfully reach the finish line.

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Stop Dreading Swimsuit Shopping – Don’t Let Your Mind Bully Your Body

Headed to warmer weather tomorrow for a couple days and can’t wait to sit in the pool and relax.

So of course, I wait until the day before we leave to go shop for a swimsuit. As I tried to prep myself for shopping I was battling those awful thoughts…

‘Ugh, after a long winter, your pale skin is going to look terrible no matter what you try on. Actually, who are you kidding, it’s not the pale skin. Swimsuits reveal every flaw you see in yourself. Are you really prepared for this?’

Then, I stopped myself. I was reminded of a recent blog post I wrote about shopping. How could I offer up advice on enjoying shopping and not even follow it myself.

So I thought about why I was going shopping for a swimsuit. I’m headed to hang out with some great friends and relax poolside. There’s nothing I dislike about any of that. So why am I letting what I wear ruin my day?

With a new attitude I headed to the mall.

First stop…nothing. With spring break having passed for most schools in our area the selection was limited.

Second stop…picked up a few options and headed to the dressing room. First the top was too small, then the bottoms weren’t a flattering cut. But I didn’t get frustrated or upset. These suits weren’t right for me but I would find one.

On to the third stop. Again some options and then I saw it. Could I pull it off? It was worth a try. And I’m glad I did. Granted, it was a little more expensive than what I would normally spend, but it was definitely a YES!

I’m constantly challenging my comfort zone level to share my personal struggles with you. I share them because I want you to know that I understand the challenges of healthy living, overcoming negative self-talk, and finding the time to take care of yourself all while juggling countless other duties.

So today I’ll take it one step further out of my comfort zone and share a picture of me in my new swimsuit. Is my body perfect? No, I’m not striving for perfection. I’m a work in progress and I’m striving for progress each and every day. I work hard to be a good wife, mom and friend. I give it my everything during my own workouts and work just as hard to help my clients achieve better health.

I’m not perfect and the truth is, perfection is a figment of human imagination.

TOTALLY out of my comfort zone sharing this photo! It's about progress, because there's no such thing as perfection.

TOTALLY out of my comfort zone sharing this photo! It’s about progress, because there’s no such thing as perfection.

Getting Kids Active with KidFit

Do you have a child who is more into video games than sports? One who would rather watch tv than ride a bike?

You would think as a Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor I would have children who are always on the go. Unfortunately, I, like many parents, have to pry the video game controllers and other electronic devices away and firmly push them outdoors.

And when it comes to sports, my husband and I generally make the executive decision to enroll them in various programs. Basketball has been a positive experience, but baseball, well… not so much!

This all got me thinking that if I am struggling to keep my non-athletic kiddos active, other parents are probably struggling too. Let’s face it, not all children are drawn to team sports which is generally a great way to keep them active.

Starting November 18th I am going to offer a six week KitFit program at CustomFit. The class is designed for boys and girls ages 9 – 13 and will meet every Tuesday and Thursday from  4:30 – 5:15pm at 218 E. St Charles in Lombard.

The class will be a combination of fun activities to get children interested in staying active and equip them with things that they can do at home to stay healthy.

Positive habits that are formed now will follow your children through their life so don’t wait to get them interested in activities that will keep them healthy and happy. Register today by calling 574-387-1344 or emailing jenn@customfitpt.com
Cost: $125/session, $50/each additional child
Sessions:
Nov 18 – Dec 23
Jan 6 – Feb 12
Feb 17 – March 26
March 31 – May 7

The Reality of Calories and Portions

realityLast night I had two women approach me at my Boot Camp Class at Glass Courts asking about what they needed to do for weight loss. Both regularly exercise, but are discouraged by their results.

My first question to anyone interested in losing weight is, “Are you tracking your food?” Now I know I myself have gone back and forth on this issue. There are times that I have become so obsessed with the calories, portions and the breakdown of my nutrients that I’ve had to walk away from tracking. I get how it can become more unhealthy than productive. However, if you’ve never tracked your calories and portions before this can be a very eye opening experience.

I’d like to use my husband as an example of the eye opening experience. I finally convinced him to start using MyFitnessPal with the promise that I would also track my intake. Last night he had several calories still left in the evening (not exactly what I would recommend, since you want to consume your calories early in the day) so he was of course still hungry. It started with salted shelled peanuts, “I can have 14 peanuts.” To which I asked, “Did you ever know before what a portion of shelled peanuts was?” His response, “No, I’d just pour a bowl and eat what was in there.”

Still a little later he was still hungry and made a small plate of cheese, sausage and crackers. As he sat down with me on the sofa he said, “Man, over 400 calories for this little bit.” His eyes are opening to the value of calories for both meals and snacks, as is his awareness of portion sizes.

As someone who does personal training and group fitness, it’s a bit of a professional hazard for me to say this but weight loss and management is 80% about diet and only 20% about your activity levels.

As an example for you, I regularly wear a FitBit Flex. My Boot Camp class was curious how many calories it logged for me while teaching the hour long class which is a combination of exercises with dumbbells, high and low intensity cardio and of course, some abdominal exercises. Last night I checked at the end of the hour long class and it had logged a whopping 282 calories – less than 300 calories for an hour of an intense, sweaty workout! They couldn’t believe it, but I did.

We have to stop believing that an hour in the gym gives us freedom to eat what we want, when we want, with no true regard to portion sizes. Exercise WILL help you build muscle and burn fat, exercise will NOT erase poor choices.

Now I’d like to flip the discussion to those who maybe aren’t necessarily consuming the wrong things, but those who aren’t consuming enough. If you want to lose weight you cannot starve your body of the calories it needs to function. Cutting your caloric intake below your estimated minimum requirements can result in weight loss, however, cutting too many calories may result in your body hoarding all that you eat and storing more fat to prevent ‘starvation.’ Now you know you aren’t starving, but your organs don’t know that and they are designed to do everything they can to keep you alive.

Eating too few calories can be just as damaging to your weight loss goals and metabolism as eating too many.

So what should you do?

  1. Start tracking your intake to get a baseline for where you are. There are tons of free apps and websites, you don’t have to pay money for these tools. Commit to at least a couple weeks to understand your eating habits and caloric consumption.
  2. In tracking your food, check the nutritional breakdown of your overall day. You should be consuming about 50% carbs (these are fruits and veggie carbs – not breads and pastas), 30% healthy fats (avocado, hummus, olive oil, nuts, etc) and 20% protein (lean meats, egg whites).
  3. Start an exercise log. Now I caution, some of the caloric burns that the tracking apps and websites give seem inflated to me. Use these with caution, but again, get a baseline for your true activity levels.
  4. Keep in mind that to lose one pound you must create a deficit of 3,500 calories. That means in a week you need to eat less, burn more or a combination of the two to equate 500 calories a day. Losing 2 pounds a week would mean a 7,000 calorie deficit = 1,000 calories/day!! So stop beating yourself up if you only lose a pound in a week – you’ve done it the right way.

Once you have a sense of where you are, you will have a more realistic idea about how to get to where you want to be. There is no single magic formula that will work for everyone. I personally have found what works for me. But it’s taken some trial and error, I’ve lapsed into bad habits along the way, and I’ve rebounded into healthy eating as well.

Let’s face it, none of us like a reality check, but without one, you could be sabotaging your own efforts for a healthy body.

 

 

Disappointing Weigh-Ins

I despise the thought of being defined by the number on the scale. That said, regular weigh-ins can be a good reality check. Let’s face it, we all know when our clothes feel a little tighter or when our muffin top becomes more noticeable with certain outfits. But for me, tighter jeans or a ill-fitting top just makes me dig a little deeper in my closet and find something more flattering. Tight clothes aren’t the wake up call I need; seeing a climbing number on the scale is the splash of cold water I need to wake up and examine how my choices are affecting my health.

So in an effort to be accountable and try and shed a few pounds for summer I joined a weight loss challenge at Patriot Boxing. I find that if I am accountable to a team or a challenge I feel empowered to make better choices. 

Last night was the weigh in for week two and I bombed it. I would have been okay with holding steady, but instead I actually gained. Right back to where I started at week one. In that moment I felt like I had let myself down, I let my team down, and oddly I felt the weight of disappointment from my previous clients who looked back and me and asked, ‘How is that possible? I’ve been working so hard.’

The reality is, I too have been working hard. Unfortunately, when it comes to the number on the scale all that hard work can’t overcome some of the other things I haven’t been so great at: 

  • Poor sleeping patterns
  • Skipping weekend workouts
  • Eating too few calories
  • Eating enough calories but not getting the right balance of carbs, proteins and fats
  • Eating dinner late
  • Eating too little for breakfast
  • Eating meals out

See a pattern here? Eating. So what did I do after my terrible weigh in? I ordered a pizza with double pepperoni, ate 3 pieces and attacked the candy drawer for dessert. Clearly not the best of choices but I have to say that pizza tasted good.

So where do I go from here? I can continue to negative self-talk about all the ways I failed, especially with the pizza and candy, or I can take stock of the past week as a whole and be empowered as I work towards my week three weigh in. 

  • Poor sleeping patterns – Yes, I stayed up too late, but I would have missed out on quality time with friends and my husband. For those moments, I’ll gladly give up a little sleep.
  • Skipping weekend workouts – I could have been more intentional about working out over the weekend and that is something I should work on. However, throughout the week I put in some good hard workouts.
  • Eating too few calories – The days I ate too few calories, I simply wasn’t hungry. I try to tune into my body and eat when hungry and stop when I’m full. I know consuming too few calories can slow metabolism, but I’m not going to force feed myself when I’m not hungry.
  • Eating enough calories but not getting the right balance of carbs, proteins and fats – This is a work in progress and some days I am right on the money.
  • Eating dinner late – We live busy lives. I’d rather eat a late dinner and enjoy it with my whole family rather than eating in shifts.
  • Eating too little for breakfast – I’m generally not hungry in the morning and something is better than nothing. It’s time to get back to my green smoothies.
  • Eating meals out – Sometimes this is beyond our control and I at least made healthy choices. I wanted a bacon cheeseburger, instead I ordered a salad with no dressing.

Yes, by the number on the scale I failed. But in looking at the whole picture, I gained in a good way. I embraced time with family and friends and I made healthy choices as often as possible. Sure I have things to work on for the coming week, but I’m not going to let the disappointment of a bad weigh in weigh me down.

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My Relationship with Food

I love food, but I’ve come to realize I have an unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship with food.

I struggle with cravings.

I struggle with portion sizes.

When it comes to cravings rarely seek out sweets or chips. I crave things like pizza and cheeseburgers, which may have some redeeming nutritional value however tend to be very high in calories and saturated fats. And yes I know there are ways to make these dishes in a more healthy way, and I’ve tried them, but they aren’t the same. There are times that the only thing that will do is a classic slice, or two (or three or…) of pepperoni pizza.

Which brings me to portion sizes. I have a difficult time sticking to the recommended portion sizes. I know one of the best ways to reduce portion sizes is to reduce your plate size, and I do that. But then I go back for seconds, totally defeating the purpose of the smaller plate. (If you are unfamiliar with a standard portion or need a refresher click here to review a slide show on portions.)

So because I suffer from cravings and portion control, I have created a distorted perception of food. Instead of seeing food as fuel for my body there are times I fear having to make food choices and times where I even hate it because I’m unable to ‘control’ my consumption. As a result I see food as what makes me dread stepping on the scale instead of a necessity to help me stay healthy and active.

Granted, I’ve trained myself to think through my choices and not be impulsive so most days my food consumption remains in check. But there are those days where no amount of self-talk can provide the willpower needed to not give into the cravings or extra helpings. For years I’ve beat myself up over those days. I’ve been disappointed in my failure to eat healthy, I’ve chastised myself for seeing the numbers rise on the scale and I’ve looked in the mirror and said some pretty awful things to myself – things I would never say to any other person.

After a really tough conversation with my best friend (my husband) I realized my mirror dialog needed to change. It needed to change not only for me, but it needed to change so that my children would never look in a mirror and think negatively of themselves. 

I recently posted two links on my Personal Training FaceBook page that have helped me greatly in thinking differently about my relationship with food:

  • The first is about a 13 minute video in which neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt uses her personal story to explain how our brains manage our bodies, and the science behind why dieting not only doesn’t work, but is likely to do more harm than good. She suggests ideas for how to live a less diet-obsessed life, intuitively. Do yourself a favor, watch this video.
  • The next is a follow-up blog on the science of willpower written by Kelly McGonigal. Her blog explores why we cannot rely on willpower and is applicable to much more than just dieting and food consumption.

     

I recognize that in order to change my mirror dialog, I have to change my relationship with food. I need to recognize food as the fuel to help me be a loving wife and mom and a successful fitness professional. What is your relationship with food? Is it a healthy one? If not, take some time to think about how you can work on that relationship so that it doesn’t affect the way you talk to yourself.

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Overcoming Setbacks

We are already half-way through February and I suspect that if you set some New Years Resolutions about health and fitness you may have experienced a setback or two.

Setbacks are very common and happen to everyone at some point. What sets those who ultimately succeed apart from those who continue to struggle is what you do with your setback experience.

Do you allow your setbacks to define you or do you look at it as just a bump in the path to better health?

Life happens. Somewhere in your journey you will have unexpected situations that throw your workout routine off and disrupt your plans for healthy eating.

The first thing you need to examine is your schedule. Are you giving yourself enough time to exercise? If not, add an appointment with yourself on your calendar to create time for your workout. With all the demands that others have on you it’s important you take time to take care of yourself.

The next thing you need to do is look in the refrigerator. Do you have plenty of healthy choices that are easy to pull together for meals and snacks? We often find ourselves eating junk because it’s convenient. Take a little bit of time to make the healthy foods easy choices by cleaning your fruits and vegetables before you put them in the refrigerator. Prepare extra lean meats when you have time to cook so you can quickly grab them as a leftover when you’re running low on time.

The most important thing is to identify what is distracting you from your goals and plans. You have an opportunity to take those setbacks and turn them into growth opportunities.

If it’s a problem with…

  • scheduling: change your workout schedule
  • meal prep: cook on the weekends so all you have to do is warm your meals
  • eating out: get online and find the healthiest option before you get there so you’re not as tempted by the bad choices or confused by what to order
  • motivation: find a new activity or something to work towards

The better you are at identifying the reason for your setback, the more equipped you are to avoid that pitfall in the future.

Let’s be honest, victories certainly aren’t as sweet if we haven’t experienced the bitterness of defeat somewhere along the way. Put those setbacks behind you and make a commitment to get back on track TODAY!